David Barash urges scientists to make human-chimp hybrids

Well, this is about as bad an idea I can imagine coming from a biologist, and its justification is equally poor.  The idea is to make human/chimp hybrids (“humanzees”), in the hope that their existence will convince people that Homo sapiens is not a separate, created entity, but is part of an evolutionary continuum not just with chimps, but with all species.

Our ancestors diverged from the ancestor of the two living species of chimps about 6.5 million years ago. These chimps are thus our closest living ancestors.

It’s often said that we’re nearly genetically identical to chimps, with a divergence of only about 1.25% in DNA sequence. But each protein made in the body is encoded by many DNA bases (a protein containing 100 amino acids has 300 DNA bases in its coding sequence), and so on average, as I recall, there’s at least one sequence difference or more between each human and chimp protein. And that doesn’t count DNA in regulatory regions that control gene expression.  All in all, saying that we’re 99% similar to chimps doesn’t mean that we’re almost the same in terms of either our proteins or the developmental program that constructs bodies from them. But this similarity has led biologists to wonder if we could make hybrids between humans and chimps.  Further, we have 23 pair of chromosomes, and the other great apes, including chimps, have 24. This would almost surely make any hybrids, even if they could develop, sterile, for the unequal chromosome numbers would impede meiosis, the formation of gametes that requires chromosomes of both parents to pair.

As I mentioned in Why Evolution is True, (footnote 51, p. 245), Ilya Ivanov, a Russian zoologist actually tried this, inseminating 3 female chimps with human sperm at a field station in French Guinea. No pregnancy or offspring resulted. (It’s likely that he used artificial insemination, though we’re not sure!) Then, later in Russia, Ivanov proposed to do the reverse experiment, inseminating human females (presumably artificially!) with chimp sperm. Fortunately, the Russians stopped the experiment, and Ivanov, for other reasons, eventually was sent off to the gulag. (There’s a long video about the work here, but I haven’t watched it.)

There are many reasons why we shouldn’t produce such hybrids. First of all, they probably wouldn’t develop anyway given the genetic divergence between the species and the fact that the one experiment trying this already failed (of course, the insemination could have been botched). But we simply can’t predict  how a hybrid would develop: whether it would form an intermediate animal or some bizarre creature deeply screwed up by developmental anomalies. The different chromosome numbers would certain make the animal sterile. Given our gross ignorance of what such a creature would be like, even if it could develop, it’s best not to try.

And of course there are the ethical problems. While I think chimps should be afforded many of the rights enjoyed by humans, including the right not to be experimented on, or to not be caged up in zoos, a hybrid human-chimp would cause additional ethical dilemmas—and big ones. If it were semi-human, with a “hybrid mentality”, what rights would it have? How would it be treated? Would scientists keep it captive to do biochemical and behavioral experiments? While it’s okay to make hybrid sunflowers, this is a different kettle of primates altogether.

Yet David Barash, an emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Washington and a writer of popular books, suggests, in a new article in Nautilus (“It’s time to make human-chimp hybrids“), that we should go full speed ahead in making humanzees.  His reasons, though, are not even based on scientific curiosity: they’re simply to prove a point—that humans are outlier creatures, not really part of evolution but exceptional, and perhaps created by God.  Somehow humanzees will show that to be wrong. Here’s his rationale (my emphasis):

Of course, all that we know of evolution (and by now, it’s a lot) demands otherwise, since evolution’s most fundamental take-home message is continuity. And it is in fact because of continuity—especially those shared genes—that humanzees or chimphumans could likely be produced. Moreover, I propose that the fundamental take-home message of such creation would be to drive a stake into the heart of that destructive disinformation campaign of discontinuity, of human hegemony over all other living things. There is an immense pile of evidence already demonstrating continuity, including but not limited to physiology, genetics, anatomy, embryology, and paleontology, but it is almost impossible to imagine how the most die-hard advocate of humans having a discontinuously unique biological status could continue to maintain this position if confronted with a real, functioning, human-chimp combination.1

. . . it seems equally likely that faced with individuals who are clearly intermediate between human and ape, it will become painfully obvious that a rigid distinction between the two is no longer tenable. But what about those presumably unfortunate individuals thereby produced? Neither fish nor fowl, wouldn’t they find themselves intolerably unspecified and inchoate, doomed to a living hell of biological and social indeterminacy? This is possible, but it is at least arguable that the ultimate benefit of teaching human beings their true nature would be worth the sacrifice paid by a few unfortunates.

“A few unfortunates?” First of all, Barash says we already know about the continuity of all life, including our common ancestry with chimpanzees. Exhibiting a creature that’s half of each, and might be severely screwed up and deformed, isn’t going to convince people otherwise. What possible effect could exhibiting a humanzee do to those who think that humans are special, whether we be created by God or simply think we’re entitled  to control the beasts and fowls of Earth (not to mention the forests)? Thinking a hybrid would change everyone’s mind is wishful thinking.

Barash recounts the story of Ivanov, whose experiments aren’t well known (that’s why I described them in WEIT).  That’s interesting, of course, but then Barash goes on to push for continuing Ivanov’s work by producing humanzees. He’s not sure if it should be done by direct hybridization (artificially, of course; we can’t have humans bonking chimps), or by forming a chimera: using embryos of humans and chimps (or inserting genes from one species into the other species via CRISPR). He favors the production of chimeras, but we’re nowhere near doing that. In my view, we shouldn’t do it—not without a rationale better than Barash’s.

At the end, Barash goes into a bit of a rant how we need to produce these animals because they’ll—wait for it—refute religious claims about human excepti0nalism.  But really, do we need to spend so much dosh and go to so much trouble to prove what we already know: that we are evolved creatures, splitting from our closest living relatives about 6 million years ago? Making a sad and possibly sick or deformed humanzee, merely to satisfy Barash’s need to show that Genesis is false, seems a waste of both time and money.  So this advice, in Barash’s last few paragraphs, strikes me as foolish:

Looking favorably on the prospect of a humanzee or chimphuman will likely be not only controversial, but to many people, downright immoral. But I propose that generating humanzees or chimphumans would be not only ethical, but profoundly so, even if there were no prospects of enhancing human welfare. How could even the most determinedly homo-centric, animal-denigrating religious fundamentalist maintain that God created us in his image and that we and we alone harbor a spark of the divine, distinct from all other life forms, once confronted with living beings that are indisputably intermediate between human and non-human?

In any event, the nonsensical insistence that human beings are uniquely created in God’s image and endowed with a soul, whereas other living things are mere brutes has not only permitted but encouraged an attitude toward the natural world in general and other animals in particular that has been at best indifferent and more often, downright antagonistic, jingoistic, and in many cases, intolerably cruel. It is only because of this self-serving myth that some people have been able to justify keeping other animals in such hideous conditions as factory farms in which they are literally unable to turn around, not to mention prevented from experiencing anything approaching a fulfilling life. It is only because of this self-serving myth that some people accord the embryos of Homo sapiens a special place as persons-in-waiting, magically endowed with a notable humanity that entitles them to special legal and moral consideration unavailable to our nonhuman kin. It is only because of this self-serving myth that many people have been able to deny the screamingly evident evolutionary connectedness between themselves and other life forms.

When claims are made about the “right to life,” invariably the referent is human life, a rigid distinction only possible because of the presumption that human life is somehow uniquely distinct from other forms of life, even though everything we know of biology demonstrates that this is simply untrue. What better, clearer, and more unambiguous way to demonstrate this than by creating viable organisms that are neither human nor animal but certifiably intermediate?

How about just pointing to the skeleton of Australopithecus afarensis?

n.b. For what it’s worth Nautilus was originally a Templeton-funded website, but now, with the loss of some grants (presumably Templeton doesn’t want humanzees either), it’s having trouble paying off its writers.

82 Comments

  1. Danny Kodicek
    Posted March 9, 2018 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    Technical question: You say “The different chromosome numbers would certain make the animal sterile”, but surely that can’t always be the case or we could never have evolved different chromosome numbers in the first place?

    As I understand it, our missing chromosome pair came about as a result of a chance mutation that joined two ancestral chromosomes into one. That’s a point event, not a gradual one, so there must be some way for it to have been incorporated into the gene pool. While it might have caused fertility problems (and perhaps as a result have been an important step in the speciation process), it can’t have prevented breeding altogether.

    • Posted March 9, 2018 at 9:34 am | Permalink

      Good point. Yes, there was clearly a fusion in the ancestor —>human lineage, and some fusion heterozygotes can be fertile when they first originate. But whether pairing is proper after several million years depends on how much the chromosomes have diverged structurally and genetically since that long-ago event. It’s by no means clear that at present humans/chimp hybrids would be fertile, even if their chromosomes did pair properly, since genetic differences also screw up meiosis. We have plenty of species which have identical chromosomes (in flies, for instance) but hybrids are sterile (or chromosomes can’t pair) because of the genetic divergence.

      • Danny Kodicek
        Posted March 9, 2018 at 9:43 am | Permalink

        I’m glad I’m not being a complete idiot!
        This issue comes up quite a bit in questions on Quora, and it seems to me that a lot of people have ended up a little too fixated on the idea that we’re a different species from chimps *because* we have different numbers of chromosomes. It has a tendency to feed into the idea that there was some ‘moment’ when a non-human ape gave birth to a human, rather than it being a gradual divergence.

        • darrelle
          Posted March 9, 2018 at 10:05 am | Permalink

          I think that’s pretty common among non-experts, which I am myself. I think many people don’t understand that chromosomes are a protein structure with DNA coiled about it and that there can be significant differences in those protein structures, the packaging as it were, while at the same time the DNA could still be nearly identical. Conceivably, in the early stages of a chromosome fusion mutation event the DNA could be identical.

          For example the DNA in the fused human chromosome that corresponds to two separate chromosomes in apes is still very similar to the DNA in those two separate ape chromosomes.

          • Wayne Robinson
            Posted March 9, 2018 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

            I don’t think that having different numbers of chromosomes in the parents would necessarily make the offspring sterile.

            Some cases of trisomy 21 are due to a fusion of chromosome 21 with another chromosome in one of the parents, who then has 45 instead of the normal 46. And in some of the offspring, trisomy 21 occurs, despite the person having 46 chromosomes – the person has a normal chromosome 21 from each parent and the fused chromosome 21 with another chromosome giving three copies of chromosome 21.

            So obviously people with fused chromosomes are still fertile, as Jerry notes.

            If for some reason – perhaps some climatic disaster – a new isolated human colony was formed comprising a disproportionate number of individuals with the fused chromosome 21/other chromosome variant, then just by chance, the new normal of 44 instead of 46 chromosomes would occur, with all the individuals having two copies of the fused chromosome.

            People with chromosome 21 are usually sterile or subfertile, but there are reported cases of pregnancies occurring in people with trisomy 21.

            Probably the main reason why human-chimpanzee hybrids wouldn’t be viable, let alone fertile, is that not only have the chromosomes (including their number) evolved for 6 million years, but also the mitochondria have also evolved for 6 million years.

            Most of the genes for mitochondria have been moved to the nucleus. There are only about 13 genes for structural proteins of the aerobic respiratory chain left in the mitochondrial genome.

            If you attempt to produce a hybrid by taking an egg from one species with its mitochondria having diverged from the common ancestor 6 million years earlier and add in the nuclear DNA of the sperm containing genes for mitochondrial proteins which have similarly evolved for 6 million years, many of the protein products of nuclear mitochondrial genes wouldn’t ‘fit’ with the protein products of the mitochondrial genes.

            And the offspring would have lethal mitochondrial diseases.

            • Torbjörn Larsson
              Posted March 9, 2018 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

              Added to that there are chromosomal reorganizations of lesser degree than splits or merges, where the chimp clade have seen ~ 100 of them while the slow poke human clade ~ 10. They too would mean difficulties in lining up chromosomes during fertilization, I think.

          • Posted March 11, 2018 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

            The differences are in DNA, not in the protein scaffold, which is reliably matched to DNA.

        • Posted March 11, 2018 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

          Besides the fusion of 2 great ape chromosomes into the human chromosome No 2, there are 9 large inversions (i.e. rotations of a chromosome piece 180 degrees) that differ human from chimpanzee chromosomal set. The combination of these 10 differences guarantees sterility of the eventual hybrid, if it can be produced at all.

          • ThyroidPlanet
            Posted March 11, 2018 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

            Interesting! I never knew that!

            All I knew was there’s 98% similarity or something like that, or there’s a few base pairs or amino acid differences – trees for the forest.

            • Posted March 11, 2018 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

              The 98% is about the nucleotide sequence of DNA that encodes RNA and proteins and ultimately determines the traits of an organism.
              The way genes are packed in chromosome has little contribution to the traits of the organism but if different, hinders hybridization and therefore is important for speciation.

              • ThyroidPlanet
                Posted March 11, 2018 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

                Huh!

                Um – that 2% difference – not random I presume- can we say generally how/ where it is distributed, e.g. mostly in Justine DNA, mostly in non coding regions….

              • Posted March 11, 2018 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

                I think that only the coding sequences are counted, and nobody has separated random from non-random change.
                I suppose that most of important differences between humans and chimpanzees are in regulatory sequences determining when and where genes are expressed.

              • ThyroidPlanet
                Posted March 12, 2018 at 10:12 am | Permalink

                Ill remember that – thanks

              • ThyroidPlanet
                Posted March 11, 2018 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

                Oh Darn, not Justine but histone… like it matters, it’s just an example…

    • Posted March 9, 2018 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

      In addition to the chromosomal fusion in the human line, there are several chromosomal inversions. That is, either the human line and/or the chimp line had inversions in various chromosomes.
      This too would greatly complicate meiosis in a humanzee, who would be heterozygous for these inversions.

      I predict sterility in the humanzee for that reason.

  2. Randall Schenck
    Posted March 9, 2018 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    The justification just makes no sense at all. It is wishful thinking to believe this genetic manipulation would convince believers of anything. They see solid evidence of evolution everyday and simply deny. Good Grief man….look at Fox new and tell us what planet are they on and what is their reality?

    • Posted March 9, 2018 at 10:10 am | Permalink

      Yes, this was my view as well. His rationale for doing this unethical thing is to convince the science deniers that humans are related to apes.
      But he fails to realize that this goal will surely fail. It won’t convince many of them anyway.

      • Richard
        Posted March 9, 2018 at 10:50 am | Permalink

        I think it would simply reinforce their ideas about them godless evilutionists… Not only do they deny The Lawd, they now think they are The Lawd!

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted March 9, 2018 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

          I agree with what all three of you say as well. It’s a stupid idea imo.

          As for his attitude to the “few poor unfortunates” – what an a$$ho£€!

    • Posted March 10, 2018 at 4:45 am | Permalink

      The only thing it would convince people of is that science is loathsome and unworthy of support, so if the overall objective is advancement of science then this isn’t the way. In fact, the proposal alone will probably result in some damage.

      That’s just another argument to add to the pile of reasons that this is a bad idea.

      • Diane G.
        Posted March 10, 2018 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

        Very good point.

  3. DrBrydon
    Posted March 9, 2018 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    Do you want the Island of Doctor Moreau? Because this is how you get the Island of Doctor Moreau.

    • David Coxill
      Posted March 9, 2018 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

      Try looking at this from the poor Chimp’s point of view .
      Would any Species want to be mated with a Species as barking mad as Homo Sapiens .

  4. Posted March 9, 2018 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    Even if we could produce a humanzee, I doubt it would convince the religious of anything. Once you have a philosophy which is not based on truth, you can accommodate anything with sufficient shucking and jiving.

    • darrelle
      Posted March 9, 2018 at 10:09 am | Permalink

      I think all it would convince them of is that it was the work of Satan and that the end times are near. It would confirm their beliefs.

      • Posted March 9, 2018 at 10:52 am | Permalink

        I am currently doing a MOOC on the origins of Islam. I think Paul is right about convincing the religious of anything. I suspect that dropping one’s religious beliefs is the result of a years-long drip, drip effect on the individual. Even though we have reports of apostates having epiphanic moments caused by a single thought, I still imagine that was the result of years of doubt.

        Btw. the MOOC has revealed the noisiest, most supremacist, rude, numerological Ahmadi who claims he is not a Muslim. Ecclesiates was wrong: there is something new under the sun.

  5. glen1davidson
    Posted March 9, 2018 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    How could even the most determinedly homo-centric, animal-denigrating religious fundamentalist maintain that God created us in his image and that we and we alone harbor a spark of the divine, distinct from all other life forms, once confronted with living beings that are indisputably intermediate between human and non-human?

    The same way they do now. They’d say, “well, they’re sterile and pathetic” or whatever, plus humans have magic souls and went to the moon (unless they deny that too).

    It’s like Barash is looking at the huge amount of data that show that we’re closely related to chimps and thinking, what sort of data would convince a denialist? Thinking that there just has to be something that will convince those determined to believe otherwise. It’s like believing, well, if we have photos of the spherical earth, no one will be a flat earther any more.

    It’s more like the opposite. We’ve got the evidence, and the stunt would just look pathetic and pointless (why do that if you already have the evidence?). You might convince a few, and you’d probably lose more because the hybrid would be so unlike an actual human.

    I bet that before we had hominin transitionals, there were people saying, now if we just had fossils between humans and apes (so to speak), all of these beliefs about special creation and souls and what-not would disappear. Well they would, if people were believing religious nonsense because of the evidence, or lack thereof. But they’re not.

    Glen Davidson

  6. Liz
    Posted March 9, 2018 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    So the humanzee would have half of a soul then?

    • Richard
      Posted March 9, 2018 at 10:53 am | Permalink

      What good is half a soul?

  7. David Evans
    Posted March 9, 2018 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    Creationists would probably switch to the idea, which I have already seen on their sites, that the great apes are actually humans who have degenerated as a result of sin.

  8. Hemidactylus
    Posted March 9, 2018 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    So Templeton could be on the side of the better angels so to speak? The PBS show Closer to Truth is a godsend compared to most other programming that passes for education on cable. Kuhn is up front about his quest for God but is even keeled and interviews nonbelievers. I have learned much from his show. Thanks Templeton.

    Funny I mentioned the possibility of manpanzees on a previous thread. Synchronicity? The universe is speaking back to me. Spooky.

  9. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted March 9, 2018 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    No sub

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted March 9, 2018 at 10:00 am | Permalink

      Ok ok – sub – For Science

      But Oh boy, what an idea.

  10. Adam M.
    Posted March 9, 2018 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    Although I agree it’s unethical, if someone did produce a hybrid I’d follow the results with great interest. I believe it’s possible — a short trial with three individuals is not enough to rule it out! — and there’s a way we could go part way ethically. That’s to collect a wide variety of human and chimp sperm and eggs and try to combine them using IVF techniques. If any blastocysts form, then a hybrid might be possible. If none form, then we could provisionally rule it out.

  11. Jake Sevins
    Posted March 9, 2018 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    Things we shouldn’t do: create new species out of spare parts from existing species, clone humans, continue tinkering with machine intelligence without understanding what we’re doing.

    Oh, and electing narcissistic orange men with tiny hands into high office.

  12. Ken Kukec
    Posted March 9, 2018 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    Reminds me a story I heard (though I can’t vouch 100% for its veracity) about the Dublin Zoo having a hard time finding a suitable mate to breed with its female gorilla. Out of desperation, they grabbed a big Paddy off the fishing docks, fresh from a month at sea. He agreed to do the deed, but had two stipulations: “one, it’ll be straight screwin’, no kissing; two, the kid’ll have to be raised Catholic.”

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted March 9, 2018 at 10:42 am | Permalink

      That last part makes me think, maybe true…

  13. colnago80
    Posted March 9, 2018 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    To be fair about this, the experiment in question was done via artificial insemination. IVF technology was unavailable at the time. It is possible that an experiment performed using IVF might come up with a different result (Stephen Jay Gould once speculated that such might be the case), although I agree that any such combinations, even if viable, would be sterile and unable to reproduce (c.f. mules, ligers, etc.).

  14. Posted March 9, 2018 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    Curiosity would make me interested in seeing a humanzee, but then again I would like to see a dragonfly de-evolved into its 36″ wingspan ancestor…

    I also have to wonder about hybrids. In some cases, the hybrid exhibits some of the better traits of its parent species. I could see a sci-fi movie movie about making humanzees that are as intelligent as we are, but with the physical capabilities of a bonobo (strength, agility), and probably eventually escaping and out-competing us. The more recent Planet of the Apes movies are similar to that (increasing intelligence of apes), but I’m sure a more interesting approach could be made along the lines of Gattaca.

    • Richard
      Posted March 9, 2018 at 10:59 am | Permalink

      Already been done: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Born_(TV_series)

      • Posted March 9, 2018 at 11:55 am | Permalink

        I suspected as much. Michael Crichton also wrote a book that had a humanzee – Next.

        I liked the Wikipedia comment about ‘consequences for playing god’. In response I’ll quote Steve Martin from ‘The Man with Two Brains’.

        “You are playing god?”
        “Somebody has to!”

      • Posted March 9, 2018 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

        There was also an ITV series called Chimera around the same time, based on a novel by Stephen Gallagher.

        First Born had a pretty good score by Hans Zimmer.

      • Bob
        Posted March 10, 2018 at 7:42 am | Permalink

        I seem to remember a film that played on German television some ten to fifteen years ago that had this theme. I think it was called “Mary’s Baby.” Could this be the same? I have been looking for this film ever since.

  15. Posted March 9, 2018 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    I assume this just a editing error: “These chimps are thus our closest living ancestors.”

    That “ancestor” should be replaced with a “relative” or something like that.

  16. nicky
    Posted March 9, 2018 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    Despite Jerry’s ethical reservations, and despite the reasons given by David Barash might be desperately hopeful (not 100% sure about that), I still think it would be interesting. Can it be done?
    We can only know by doing the experiment. I’m all for it.
    In a sense I’m kinda glad this is a rare occasion where I tend to disagree with our host, I’m so often agreeing that it reminds us of an echo-chamber. So no: I think we should try.

  17. Jon Gallant
    Posted March 9, 2018 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    The prospective travails of a humanzee remind me of a couple of intriguing, science fictionish novels about individuals of this sort—living hominin transitionals. A classic one is the 1952 Les Animaux dénaturés (translated into English as You Shall Know Them) by Vercors. 40 years later, the brilliant Danish writer Peter Høeg worked a similar vein in The Woman and the Ape. Both very much worth reading—especially if, like me, you are not quite sure that you are human yourself.

    • Posted March 9, 2018 at 11:53 am | Permalink

      The Vercors book is also known as Borderline. The New English Library SF Masters edition I have from the Seventies has a foreword by H J Eysenck.

  18. Posted March 9, 2018 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    Given that bestiality is hardly unheard of, I figure if hybridization were possible we would know of it by now.

  19. Posted March 9, 2018 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    Ilya Ivanov, a Russian zoologist actually tried this, inseminating 3 female chimps with human sperm at a field station in French Guinea.

    To be fair, what else was there to do in French Guinea during the rainy season?

    • nicky
      Posted March 9, 2018 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

      I’m sure there were other sexually tinted ideas to indulge in during the rainy season in French Guinea, it is French after all.

  20. Posted March 9, 2018 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    IMO, we don’t need new ways to make humans, so …

  21. Voltaire
    Posted March 9, 2018 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    I would like this experiment (there is always a Dr. Frankenstein). For me it is like shortening in a single stroke million of years in the process of evolution of the human species. Obviously, there are ethical problems but not unsolvable. If what it is about is to give respect and satisfy needs, that would be guaranteed. Obviously also the way to treat him will depend on the result. This will be different depending on his degree of humanity, the more similar it is to the modern human, the way it is handled will seem more like we do with humans. The experiment would not be complete without another hybrid of the opposite sex, then we must consider it. There would be no problem of a new species because according to what I have read in this thread, the descendants would be sterile.

    What I would like to know are things like these: how far would his language ability, his mathematical ability, his imagination to solve problems go?

    Certainly there will be “comical problems” for example how will the theologians solve the problem of the soul in this case? 50% soul or a more complicated algorithm based on the number of different genes? Another would be if he reaches the intelligence of Trump and we put him as Chief of Staff while Trump plays golf.

    The only problem I see is that this issue could attract the attention of the Koch brothers: Produce cheap and domesticated labor (overcoming the problem of sterility). The Koch brothers will be in charge of giving them the right to vote Republican or maybe not if the intelligence of this hybrid goes beyond that of the average Republican.

  22. Hempenstein
    Posted March 9, 2018 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    Related question re. chromosome number that I was thinking about the other day.

    Do all birds have the same chromosome number? Or do they fall into groups with a few different numbers? Has anyone tried making hybrid birds between two fairly disparate birds with the same chromosome numbers. Geographic barriers aren’t as effective with birds, and so is much bird speciation driven by reproductive isolation that might begin by differentiation in plumage?

    (Not by any means expecting that these are novel thoughts, just don’t recall any mention of any of this.)

    • Wayne Robinson
      Posted March 9, 2018 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

      It isn’t a silly thought. As an Australian, I’d always thought that all swans are black, until I went to Europe for the first time, and was amazed by all the white swans there. I went somewhat overboard and took a lot of photographs of white swans (and this was in the pre-digital camera days, with film. Which you had to have developed. And put away in boxes to collect dust and never be seen again).

      Some people, for unknown reasons, have introduced Australian black swans into Europe (perhaps to even up for the introduction of cats, foxes and rabbits into Australia). And there are reports of black swan/white swan hybrids in Europe.

      Birds with different plumage might be able to successfully interbreed, but they don’t want to. They don’t recognise the signals in the other one of the potential pair. Or they can’t, because their breeding seasons don’t coincide.

      • Posted March 12, 2018 at 11:29 am | Permalink

        That’s an interesting example – a proverbial example of “falsification” concerns “All swans are white”, written (of course) by a European who had yet to visit Australia!

        So maybe black swans have come to Europe just to finally put that silly example to rest.

    • Posted March 10, 2018 at 9:05 am | Permalink

      Nearly all dabbling duck species, genus Anas, can easily hybridize which we see in zoos and nature parks. Konrad Lorenz realized from this information that premating epigametic displays were genetically coded from these studies

  23. chris61
    Posted March 9, 2018 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    Unless he’s proposing that the chimeric embryos be implanted in human volunteers I don’t see how he can justify it ethically, given that chimpanzees are an endangered species.

  24. nicky
    Posted March 9, 2018 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    On second thoughts, I think the experiment is unethical, it obviously has been done, and what was the result? A POTUS! Unethical indeed.

    • Mark R.
      Posted March 9, 2018 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, but that was an orangutan; just ask Bill Maher who was sued by Trump for suggesting Trump’s father was an orangutan.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted March 10, 2018 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

        I’d sue Bill Maher too. How dare he. What’s an orangutan ever done to him?

        cr

  25. Posted March 9, 2018 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    Go ahead, let’s create some interesting misery because the misery we have now is just plain fucking boring.

    • Saul Sorrell-Till
      Posted March 9, 2018 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

      In one of his essays Hitchens talks about visiting a Vietnamese hospital for deformed children, all subject to birth defects arising from American chemical weapons used in the war. He doesn’t need to do any more than hint at the horrors he sees but you come away nauseated.

      The idea of purposefully creating a creature that is too much for me even when it comes up in fiction(there’s a scene in one of the later Alien films, of a lab full of defective clones of Ellen Ripley, which is to this day the most hideous thing I’ve ever seen on a cinema screen). My mind instantly goes to these places and maybe that’s unfair, maybe a humanzee would be fairly normal – but it sounds like even Barash concedes that the poor mess he creates would suffer tremendously. All so as to teach us something that, IMO, everybody knows deep down.

      • Posted March 9, 2018 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

        Certainly, creating misery by the war machine (human stupidity) is unbelievably sad let alone whims like this. But it occurred to me, that even if this worked and a creature that had some reasonable intelligence came to be, what kind of life would it be, lonely life as a freak re: elephant man scenario? and his reason? to convince people who cannot see beyond a fairytale? I’m sorry… not good enough. Of course there are loads more questions on this as a conversation, just as there are more urgent matters that need our attention.

  26. Posted March 9, 2018 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    I see no way in which such an experiment could be de done in an ethical way if the beastie is brought to term. There may be some wiggle room in stem-cell or hybrid embryo experiments that are not allowed to progress to viability, but I don’t think it is possible to construe ethical arguments in favor of bringing any hybrids to “full term”. Leave aside all of the unknown health and development issues (for both the hybrid and the host) that must be addressed before attempting to implant an embryo, much less getting one that is viable, one cannot get away from fundamental issues of self and legal agency that this creature would necessarily bring with it and which we cannot even agree about with non-hybrid humans and chimps.

    AFAIAC, this is a scientific “no go” area.

  27. Saul Sorrell-Till
    Posted March 9, 2018 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    If he really wants to prove that monkeys and humans can mate all he has to do is swab some DNA from Ivanka, Baron, Donald Jr and the rest of the brood.

  28. Ben
    Posted March 9, 2018 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    Why did you post a picture of Paul Ryan at the end of this article??

    • Posted March 9, 2018 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

      FSM help me, but the pic reminded me so much of Chris Froome that now I can’t unsee him there.

  29. allison
    Posted March 9, 2018 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    I see no reason for scientists to create new Trump voters. We’ve got all we can handle already!

  30. ladyatheist
    Posted March 9, 2018 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    This would be a bad experiment, but an excellent Star Trek episode.

  31. Posted March 9, 2018 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    This is a lose-lose situation even disregarding the ethical considerations.

    If the experiment succeeds, there is no reason to suppose that the people that believe humans are special for religious reasons will be persuaded. The evidence is overwhelming and irrefutable already; the fundamentalists have plenty of practice at ignoring uncomfortable facts.

    By the way, the issue of the soul won’t be a problem. As a creation, not of God, but of mammon, the fundamentalists will argue the humanizees have no souls. Furthermore, as an abomination before God, the fundamentalists will seek to have the humanzees destroyed.

    If the experiment fails – as I believe it would, the fundamentalists will claim that it is evidence that the idea that humans are animals like all the other animals is false. They’ll say “after all, why else did the experiment fail?”

  32. Mark R.
    Posted March 9, 2018 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

    I’m not proposing this, but just wondered. Couldn’t this be done in the test tube, just to see if meiosis would take place. I’m not talking about bringing anything to term, but with present technology, couldn’t scientists find out if the two gametes were compatible? Then dump the test tube…

    • Posted March 9, 2018 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

      This is the only approach that I can see that might pass ethical sniff tests – studies on hybrid embryos that are not allowed to progress to viability.

  33. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted March 9, 2018 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

    For what it’s worth Nautilus was originally a Templeton-funded website, but now, with the loss of some grants (presumably Templeton doesn’t want humanzees either), it’s having trouble paying off its writers.

    I could not be more happy that the religious founded wretch of a publication is in dire straits, or that the science organization AAAS – what where they thinking – did not bend over to take them up its ass.

  34. grasshopper
    Posted March 9, 2018 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

    I haven’t yet met a chimp who will give me a second look, let alone take me home to meet her folks. How much of a troglodyte do you have to be?

  35. Posted March 9, 2018 at 10:21 pm | Permalink

    “How could even the most determinedly homo-centric, animal-denigrating religious fundamentalist maintain that God created us in his image and that we and we alone harbor a spark of the divine, distinct from all other life forms, once confronted with living beings that are indisputably intermediate between human and non-human?”
    Satan did it! Them God-denyin’ evilutionists want to turn us all into Satanic vessels to rule the world!

    Something along those lines.

    • Posted March 12, 2018 at 11:31 am | Permalink

      Indeed – many sects think that Satan can do almost-miracles by the power of magic, rather than the power of Jesus, or whatever. Reference: the Faust legend.

  36. Posted March 10, 2018 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    Jerry opined that hybridization of Chimp and Human probably wouldn’t result in a successful offspring. I disagree; we have very successful viable but not fertile MULES from crossing horses and donkeys, separated 4-5 million years, different chromosome number. Their circumstance is very similar to the potential Humanzee Disclaimer, I am not in favor of finding out.

  37. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted March 10, 2018 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

    Jeezus. Talk about opening a can of worms – in fact, not just opening one but manufacturing special worms to put in it.

    There are all manner of ethical, scientific and moral arguments that this would exacerbate rather than clarify. Pushing things to their limit rarely results in a sensible outcome.

    cr


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